Computer Whiz Kids

If you followed QuakeCon coverage last month, you likely saw the amazing Fallout-inspired PC that was on hand at the event’s BYOC.

I recently caught up with the computer’s creators, Michael Kraft (case builder) and Adam Stark (configured computer and programmed game). With names like those, expect these two Plano, TX natives to build amazing computers for years to come.

When did you guys decide to do the Fallout computer for QuakeCon?

We first thought of it in 2009, but what really got things moving was winning a Sapphire Edge mini-pc at the PC Perspective Workshop at Quakecon 2011. Prior to that, we had tossed around the idea but couldn’t find a motherboard that would fit the form factor we were looking for. With this tiny PC we won, that changed everything and we realized that hey, we could really do this.

How much time/money was put into creating the PC?

We didn’t keep any exact records, but we feel it’s safe to say that it took at least 100 hours per person. It was very time consuming, but we both learned a lot of new skills along the way.

For the total hit to our wallets, we spent under $60 ($59.89 to be exact) on the entire build. It’s important to note that this price-tag doesn’t include the price of the Sapphire Mini PC, which we were lucky enough to win. The cost was also kept low by using recycled materials we had on hand. The keyboard, TV, and internal AC/DC converters, fan, and wiring were all sourced from scrap. Even an old Gameboy Advance charger was recycled and used to power the relay for the keystart on the front of the terminal!

We saw at the show that it’s a working computer. Can you talk about what it’s able to do?

Under the hood, its running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on a Sapphire Mini-PC, which for being such a tiny machine has some decent hardware: an Intel Atom processor, nVidia ION2 GPU, two gigs of ram, and a 320 gig hard drive. So despite the computer’s appearance it runs games like QuakeLive and Minecraft pretty well.

As for the hacking mini-game we demoed at the convention, it is coded in C and runs in the linux bash shell, so it is as fully functional as one can make it. It has four levels of difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Fanboy), with Fanboy mode requiring the player to manually type out the commands that bring up the hacking mini-game like you see in the Fallout 3 and New Vegas games. The mini-game itself runs almost exactly like the real deal, pulling random words from lists of a hundred for each difficulty. If you choose the correct word it takes you to an information page just like you see in the game, and if you choose wrongly, you get locked out. Unless you’re a Computer Whiz of course.

Have you guys ever created anything like this in the past?

Michael: This is my first casemod. I have experience in prop making and casual electronics projects, but I haven’t made anything nearly this complex before.

Adam: I began building computers when I was fourteen, so I have a strong foundation in building and configuring hardware, but never anything outside the box such as this. As for the programming side, I am a Computer Science Major at Boston University, so I also have experience in building programs.

What was the general reaction to the PC at QuakeCon?

Leading up to the event we thought the case wouldn’t be very popular, because it isn’t a typical flashy and powerful machine like most casemods. However, there was a very positive reaction from everyone we talked to. People seemed to appreciate the artistic hand and desire to keep things authentic. A lot of people took pictures, and we talked to so many people interested in our case that we were in danger of losing our voices by the end of the convention. We were also told that Todd Howard had heard of our build and wanted to see pictures of it, so that was pretty exciting too.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We’d like to thank the sponsors and volunteers that made this event possible, as well as Interplay, Bethesda, and Obsidian Entertainment for making an amazing series of games that inspired us to build this computer. We look forward to competing again in QuakeCon 2013, and we’re already tossing around new, bigger ideas.


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